Chocolate fair fundraiser sign

The residents of St. André Health Care are used to enjoying summertime trips to the beach from a distance. But thanks to their whole community coming together, it won’t be long before they can feel the sand and surf between their toes in-person. 

Staff at the 96-bed Biddeford, ME, facility hosted a “Chocolate Fair Fundraiser” event earlier this month to raise money for wheelchairs that could safely navigate the beaches of their home state. 

The idea was sparked when residents expressed a simple desire, according to one of the event’s key planners, Jen Tomah.

“Last summer, on a trip to a local park by the beach, several residents with mobility challenges shared that they wished they could put their toes in the sand,” said Tomah, who works in infection control and staff development at St. André.

“I never thought of it until this past summer,” Tomah told McKnight’s. “It’s kind of a tease to just bring them down to the beach and open the door.”

Acquiring the specialized beach wheelchairs with their bulbous, extra large wheels, was the apparent solution to the problem but would mean an extra expense for the facility. Faced with the need to raise funds, planning for the chocolate fair got rolling immediately last summer. The event eventually attracted involvement from more than 60 local businesses.

Guests enjoyed a chocolate fountain, donuts and pastries donated by a local bakery and a raffle with more than 20 prizes ranging from gift cards to movie theater vouchers to tickets to the nearby minor league baseball team, the Portland Sea Dogs. Other businesses supported the event with donations that went into a “chocolate fund” or directly into the wheelchair fund.

Beyond the sweet treats, visiting kids enjoyed face painting, temporary tattoos, and balloon animals crafted by staff and their families. 

All told, the event drew more than 200 guests from the community and raised $3,400 for the beach-accessible wheelchairs. Staff were so successful advertising the event to local groups and with flyers around the area that many of the visitors and donors had no relatives or connections with the facility at all.

The money from the event will go toward purchasing three beach wheelchairs — which can cost anywhere from around $1,000 to over $4,000 for more luxurious models. Residents should be ready for beach adventures starting this summer, according to Tomah

“We look forward to making those wishes come true,” she said.

St. André staff are still busy sending out ‘thank you’ letters to the community, but plans are already underway for a fall fundraiser. The Chocolate Fair will “definitely” be a repeat performance as well, Tomah said.

For more stories about the brighter side of long-term care, take a look at our coverage of one nursing home’s favorite 4-legged care worker.